Sun - February 8, 2004

Trying to reach a balance

I feel guilty about not being able to return to my fairly consistent once-a-day blog posting rate. But rather than blame it on disorganization or lack of motivation, I think it's more appropriate to blame it on a principle success: my 2004 goal of balancing my life.

A few days after the New Year arrived, my friend Alley and I got together to discuss setting some goals and resolutions for 2004. In fact, I typed up a 2-page (in very small print) list of goals, to-dos, resolutions, and the like. Actually, why don't I just list them here:

Resolved to...

1. Reject the idea that I cannot maintain all major categories (esp. Work, Acting and Body) at the same time, that I have to shelve one to focus on another.

2. Establish a reward system for significant accomplishments and follow through on the rewards.

3. Have home & car clean, laundry washed, and Quicken current every Sunday.

4. Review, revise and reprint goals on the first Sunday of every month.

5. Try and budget a number of hours each week for a different project/item that usually gets neglected. (variation/adjunct) Spend a real amount of dedicated time each week for a purely artistic pursuit. (That should be a major understatement.)

6. Strive to forge bigger, more ambitious goals as they get revised and updated.

7. Ask myself what I'm going to get done at the beginning of each day, and ask myself what I got accomplished at the end of the day. (variation/adjunct) At least for a while, make a point of listing the accomplishments for every day, week, month, regardless of whether they were on any original to-do list.

8. Ask myself once a week "What items am I procrastinating taking the first frightening step on?" and resolve to take that first step.

9. Keep the personal web site ever-changing and growing, and never let it go stale or show signs of neglect.

10. Get a good start to the day.
a. "Dress for Success" and don't walk around in pajamas throughout the day. (Get dressed, showered, etc. by 9.)
b. It's called an alarm clock. Use it

Alley and I have been trying to get together once a week to go over our goals, talk about where we are and what we're going to try to do for the next week. So far we've been able to do this about once every two weeks, but the results are palpable.

Granted, I haven't succeeded at fully accomplishing any of these items, but changing my life is a gradual process. The point is that I think since Alley and I started on this project, we've been getting some real results.

One thing I don't have listed up there (but it's in the longer "goals and to-do" section) is the need to get out and be social. Last year I spent way too much of my time being holed up in my apartment in total "hermit mode" writing about my life and not really living it. I did have some accomplishments last year—getting a pretty decent body put together in the gym, creating a pretty kick-ass website, earning my SAG card and finishing my master's degree—but in many categories—work, finance and social/relationships—if I were to grade myself I would have to give myself a "C-".

Already I'm spending a lot of time with work (the cool new contract programming for a London-based company) and social stuff (getting involved with the local Dean campaign and helping to create the Stonewall Young Democrats) and music (over the last few days I've been spending maybe an hour a day on the guitar).

The guitar stuff has been so cool. Once of the reasons I chose to start learning in (two years ago) was that I wanted to find an instrument that complimented the way I think about music, meaning the way my brain processes music. I've been trained as a [classical] pianist, and although I have a good understanding of theory and ear-training, I had a tendency to see a piece as a collection of individual notes. I was very visual; I saw notes printed on a page and I played them, eventually memorizing what my hands did when, but I never really focused on the sound of the notes. I didn't listen to the chord progressions throughout a piece. I was horrible about playing something "by ear" or recreating a melody that I heard instead of read.

In contrast, the guitar is an instrument based on chords, and there's something about the strings that makes it a very "by ear" instrument. I can play a melody without even being aware of what exact notes I'm playing. The ear just connects to the strings and the frets. Granted, being a lifelong student and an academic purist, I've been spending time learning to read music on the guitar. There's this horrible tendency for written guitar music to be written in something called "tableture" where they write down numbers (which fret) on a six-lined staff that represents the six strings on the guitar. It makes it easy for a beginner to "read music" and sight-read something that's written down, but it creates an inability to actually read real music, and the player has really no idea what notes, scales, chords or arpeggios he or she is ever playing.

Something neat happened yesterday. I was doodling around on my brother's electric guitar that he loaned me (I had it plugged into my Apple PowerBook and GarageBand was simulating a guitar amp with a nice rich sound and a little echo.) and I kind of found this sequence of notes (a scale) that sounded really good. As long as I stayed on this particular scale the melody had this really cool sound to it. I knew it wasn't a standard major or minor scale (primarily because it jumped straight from the tonic to a minor 3rd interval) and it wasn't one of the standard modes (mixolydian, frigian, locrian, etc.) and really I felt like it was something I'd invented; my "ear" had just put it together.

I wrote down the sequence of notes because I didn't want to forget them the next day: E G A (B-flat) D E. I wrote B-flat in parentheses because it kind of sounded like an "added" or "optional" note to the scale.

The, on a hunch, I looked up on the Internet the search words "Blues Scale". You see, I've heard of something called the Blues Scale. Alley's roommate who once tried jamming with me on guitar (I was awful) told me as long as I stayed on this Blues Scale, any solo would sound cool. Well, guess what? Those notes were the exact Blues Scale, and the "added" B-flat was the note that you add to a Minor Pentatonic scale to make it a Blues Scale.

Looks like my ear knew something my brain didn't. That might sound pretty geeky, but I was really psyched when I discovered that.

Well, enough writing. That resolution of having the car and apartment clean every week needs to be tended to. Actually, I've been just trying to get it down to once a month. I took Hedwig (my car) to the carwash yesterday for the February Cleaning, and I've been trying to make some progress with the apartment. In last weeks meeting with Alley I said that this week i would take care of those items, and I want to be able to report on my progress today, so no more time for blog writing!

Posted at 09:32 AM     Read More  

Fri - January 30, 2004

I'm a nut (Rockin to da beat)

Okay, I'm a total nut case. I wrote another song with GarageBand. It's really short—more of an idea than a song—and it took me like an hour to do. It starts with this drum pattern that I'm totally addicted to. I mean, at risk of songing vain, I must have listened to it to least twenty times today.

One thing that's "better" than the last song is this is 100% my creation. I didn't just drag and drop prefab'd music loops together. (And when it comes to raw note editing, GarageBand takes a back seat to the professional apps. There's no reason why they can't extend their really simple 'n intuitive interface farther. I really hope they pull through on later versions.)

Some day I'm going to have to flesh this out into a real song. The themes just have something really catchy. By the way, a challenge for those with musical ears: try and guess the time signature?

Posted at 08:34 PM     Read More  

Wed - January 28, 2004

Water in the Gas Tank

May we live in interesting times.

Well, everyone knows about the sudden stall that the Dean campaign has hit over the past week. First Iowa placing Dean third, well behind Edwards, and now in New Hampshire a double-digit second behind Kerry. And the strangest thing is that Dean was ahead of everyone in about every single poll out there. This sudden lurch from a strong first to desperately needing a defibrillator has come as quite a shock. All my fellow Dean supporters are standing around numb wondering where it all went South.

Of course, as they say, "It ain't over until it's over." There are justifications one can give for not declaring the patient dead yet. I just wonder if they are valid, or if we are trying to dampen the blow. (Of course, the moment we feel in our hearts we've lost, it's over.) There's argument that the next races in the South will not give Kerry any further leads as Clark and Edwards enjoy their strong demographics. MN has a huge number of delegates compared with these early states, with the possibility of a comeback. And finally, California and New York have such an overwhelming number of delegates.

It'll come down to whether the voting American Democrats emphasize voting for the candidate they believe in or the importance of showing the illusion of strong, unanimous support for a front-runner. (It's that damned "delectability thing" from a slightly different perspective.) If we go for the latter then Kerry has already lost, unless he does something incredibly stupid.

A few weeks ago someone declared the race "Dean's to lose" meaning Dean would win unless he faltered badly. Now the same goes for Kerry.

For those people who want to hear something funny, I came across two music mixes where someone put Dean's infamous speech/screech to music. Check out Crazy Go Nuts and Keep Dean Alive.

Speaking of music, I went and upgraded to Apple's iLife '04 so I could try out the new GarageBand application. The demonstration by Steve Jobs on the MacWorld Expo Keynote had looked way cool, so I decided to give it a try.

Like Apple's other "iLife" applications like iPhoto, iTunes, iMove and iDVD, it has a really simple-yet-powerful user interface. It is incredibly easy to assembly a bunch of "loops" (2- or 4-measure music lics in a specific instrument that you can repeat ad nausium) to create a song. It requires really no musical ability, and now you too can create monotonous house music!

I went to an online discussion group where people were talking about the app and posting samples of music they put together. They all sounded basically like music, but most were horribly tedious. I know I should be more generous for people who have never created music before, and if anyone stays with it, they might actually make something worth listening to.

Actually, it is pretty incredible how easily a person could use these well-integrated Apple applications to assemble pictures, digital movies, hand-crafted music and assemble it all onto a DVD. The ability to put artistic creation into the hands of the Ordinary Joe is pretty incredible. I sure wish this stuff was accessible when I was a kid. I'll bet Tom Loehrke and I would have assembled some pretty damned cool stuff!

In case you want to hear an example of a GarageBand-created song, I spent about 30 minutes slapping something together. Take a listen to this. Not much to listen to actively, but it could be a great background to a road-trip home movie.

Posted at 11:00 AM     Read More  

Mon - January 26, 2004

Calm Before the Storm

Tomorrow a great number of things will go into motion. Today I feel like a person who knows a massive hurricane is sitting a few miles offshore and it's about to strike. Now is the time to nail boards over windows, fill sandbags, etc. The literal translation: time to clean the apartment, do laundry, etc.

Three things start tomorrow:

1. My first solid concrete work with the new client is going to start. I'll have a huge learning curve to climb, and I've got to really pull off some miracles over the next two weeks so they decide to keep me onboard. I REALLY need this contract.

2. There's a lot of work to be done over two weeks to get the local deligate selection caucuses organized. Starting with a teleconference tomorrow everything should launch into high gear, and I suspect many people (myself included) will be getting very little sleep.

3. The New Hampshire Primaries will really tell us if Dean is going to flop, or if he's going to stay a strong contender. If he places a "strong second" than it is up to his army of supporters to shift into high gear and pull off a coup during the first "Super Tuesday" on February 3rd, and throughout the race. If he does as badly as he did in Iowa then really it's all over.

I've got to say this: I'm a much happier person now that I'm busy than when I was sitting in limbo a few months ago. I've got a pretty good litmus test figured out to determine whether I'm doing well, ie. "on the right track", or not: if I wake up in the morning before my alarm goes off, I'm a happy person. If I hit snooze a bunch (or don't set the clock and sleep until 9 or 10) then I'm an unhappy person.

It's amazingly simple, but I think it's a really accurate indicator. This morning I was so anxious and ready to hit the ground running that I just couldn't stay in bed after 6:45am even though the alarm was set for 7. I just had to get up, get the coffee started, and get to work.

I've been getting up at about 6:45am quite a bit in the last week.

Posted at 09:11 AM     Read More  

Sun - January 25, 2004

Rumors of my Abduction are Highly Exaggerated


My apologies to anyone who had been following my blog and then wondered, "Did he get run over by a taxi back in New York City?" Or maybe it was an Alien Abduction, or even worse: he was abducted by Dean fanatics!

The latter might be closest to the truth.

Actually, I've been working really hard to turn my life around. It hasn't been easy, and so many things are still in disarray, but for the most part I'm rather pleased with what I've been able to do. And I'm going to write about it. I promise. Just as soon as I get some time, which is not now.

You see, there's been so much going on in my mind and in my life that I never felt like I had the time to properly commit it to the blog here, so I kept putting off writing again, which in turn accumulated more stuff I had to write about, which made it that much harder to start up again... You see the pattern.

I'll give a quick set of highlights of the last month's activities and successes:

I rebuilt the server that is hosting so many websites, this one included.

I spent a fair amount of geek time exploring the GNUStep project, which is the next thing I want to write an article about. (That's going to take a lot of time.)

I've gotten into the art of Chinese Cooking. I'm no master yet, but I'm having a hell of a lot of fun.

I've officially filed to re-organize my business (Zone Enterprises) into an S-Corp.

I've got a promising start on a new contract with a company in London working with J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) which is something I've been wanting to work on more for ages! Now I have an excuse, and I think this contract will let me completely turn around my finances.

I wrote a mega-huge list of New Year's Resolutions, goals, etc. My friend Alley did the same, and we're trying to meet weekly to make sure we're staying on task.

I got back to Los Angeles and decided to hunt down the local Howard Dean movement, specifically the LGBT sub-community. It has led me to house parties, web discussion groups, and I'm rapidly getting involved in more and more activities, including helping to organize the L.A. deligate selection process and joining (I'd almost say co-founding because it's so new, although I have no official title) the Young Stonewall Democrats. I also built their website at

The latter item has been the most exciting and consuming item. Beyond wanting to make a difference in the world, I also have used it as an excuse to get out and meet more people. Hans has been prodding me constantly last year to get out and be more social, but I was becomming a chronic hermet. Since December 30th I've turned on a dime, and now I'm hardly home anymore—especially nights.

Anyway, I've got to go run a Dean table at "The Grove" in 90 minutes, and I haven't eaten or showered yet, so stay tuned and I PROMISE I will return to regular postings.

Posted at 08:49 AM     Read More  

Sat - December 20, 2003

Between Points in Life

I don't know why, but it is so damned hard to get anything done when I'm in Colorado. Maybe it's because Mom and I have such a fun time dinking around, plus there are a zillion things "back home" that Mom waits for my periodic visits to do.

This time I think it's a cross between that and the fact that I'm simply worn out. Since Wednesday when I was in New York I felt like I was coming down with a Christmas Cold. The odd thing is it was strangely asymptomatic: extreme fatigue and a little drainage that irritated the throat slightly. Thursday I spent the day traveling back to Colorado. At the airport I bought some Nyquil gel tabs and travelled like a semi-conscious zombie. By the time I got to Mom's house I just collapsed into bed and slept 13 hours.

Friday I alternated between sleep and meeting an accountant to discuss how I should incorporate my business. She charges $130 an hour. We power-met for 40 minutesI do my homework so I don't waste timeand that was a damned good investment. Before Dec 31 I've got to get some turbo-paperwork done!

Friday night my best friend Joe's parents took me out to dinner. David and Mary Alice McComb are simple the coolest people around, and although I haven't seen them much in the last several years, they still are my surrogate parents. They also seemed remarkably excited that their [surrogate] son was becoming a budding political activist. (They are both dedicated Democrats, although I think they haven't been active in a while. Like so many Democrats I think they feel brow-beaten by the constant [losing] battles with the Republican party. Thank God for young energy!) Anyway, they simply inundated me with interesting suggestions of all the various things I could help candidates with, from speech writing to working on the campaign staff, and they even went so far as to suggest I might have fun spending a term in Washington D.C. working on someone's staff.

By the time I left my head was spinning. It was such a hoot to see them. I'll definitely have to make sure I pop in and see them more often!

Saturday morning Mom and I watched Uncovered: The Whole Truth about the Iraq War. This is a documentary that is being promoted by the MoveOn political group. Many of the Dean supporters are ordering this movie and watching it, throwing viewing house parties, etc. Up to this point I was ambivalent—almost nervous—about seeing this movie. You see, I've watched two propaganda films in my life. Both were pretty disgusting experiences. Of course, at the time I had a pretty objective perspective so I was able to see them for what they were: manipulation devices.

The first was a film I saw when I was 14 years old called The Truth about Communism. I worked at a very interesting factory called Woodward Governor. This place was a time warp back into the 50's. Kids working in the yard wore collared shirts, and we had to put on clip-on bow ties when we entered any building, including when going in for lunch. Women were required to wear dresses or skirts—pants were forbidden. They even had a barber show in the plant and everyone had an appointment once every two weeks. The haircuts even made us look like we were in the 50's.

They offered a small number of classes where they would educate us on first aid or some field related to one of the company's divisions. I think during a Summer we'd have maybe four classes total. Well, The Truth about Communism was a pretty long movie; I remember it took two class periods. It was in black & white and was narrated by a rather young Ronald Reagan. This movie was such a blatant work of propaganda it was incredible! They showed us that communist leaders commonly stabbed each other in the back, that communist citizens didn't believe in God. They pulled just shy of suggesting that communist women ate their own young.

The outcry from my class was strong. Ours was the last group of kids to be shown that film.

The second propaganda film was an anti-gay movie. While I was in graduate school I briefly had a roommate Matt Walker. He had recently come out to his parents, who were none too thrilled. His father convinced him to attend an "education program" at their church about homosexuality. Now Matt's a good kid, he didn't like the schism this was creating with his family, and he respected his parents, so he agreed to go.

My gut instinct told me his was about to walk into a pack of wolves so I assisted in joining him. We drove down to either Loveland or Longmont to the church. It turned out the program was being presented by Colorado's own lovely Focus on the Family organization. They did the typical circus show, including inviting an "ex-gay" speaker. This was a young woman who told the audience she used to be gay. She described her deluded gay friends and their lack of focus and understanding. She basically described them as a bunch of naive free-sex hippy type of people. She had enjoyed the debauchery, but found herself spiritually empty. She spoke with pity for these people who could not follow her spiritual path to Jesus Christ. Now she is healed an whole. She doesn't miss the past life, and she only feels pity for her former friends who haven't seen the light.

Then they showed the movie. This was so completely inflammatory! The movie depicted gays as basically morally corrupt people who want to steal away and corrupt your children. They enjoyed filming pride parades and focusing on filming those few people who take things a bit too far and dress and act in ways that would shock an unfamiliar bystander. And the funny thing was every time they showed something (always out of context) that might seem shocking, there would be this dramatic heavy-bass moody background music that would send shivers down your spine and make you think the boogeyman was about to jump out at you.

I watched the church congregation, and I studied their faces. These were decent people who had come because they were concerned and uninformed about what they considered to be an upcoming issue. They came to their church—which they trusted—to be educated. And their church scared them out of their wits. No wonder there's such an anti-gay bias in the world. It just amazes me that churches can preach such a doctrine of hatred. I guess that's why I have a knee-jerk fear of Christians.

Anyway, I was fully aware that Uncovered: The Whole Truth about the Iraq War was a political documentary, which almost by definition makes it a propaganda film. As much as I love being caught up in the swell of self-righteous fighting energy with the Dean activism, I couldn't look myself in the mirror if I allowed myself not to strive to see the whole picture of things. So as much as I wanted to rally totally behind this movie, I also wanted to see if I could detect obvious propaganda manipulation techniques.

I'm afraid I was unsuccessful. Everything the interviewed experts (with very impressive credentials) said mirrored the conclusions that I've been drawing. The material was very well organized, and after seeing it I couldn't help but wonder why George W hasn't been impeached, or at least under very tight and uncomfortable scrutiny. (Answer: Ashcroft.)

I've got a friend back in L.A. who is (shudder) a Republican, but strangely he's also a nice guy and rather intelligent. I'm considering asking if he would sit down with me to watch the film and then point out places in which it may not be showing an objective story. I doubt he will agree, but I think I'll ask him.

Posted at 08:19 AM     Read More  

Mon - December 15, 2003

A time of introspection

Yesterday was a lot of fun. I'm so excited to be back in New York; I really do love this city. There was a snowstorm, and I just had to go out in it, smiling like an idiot, bouncing in delight, taking in New York Christmas.

New York City understands Christmas in a very special way, and there's no better place to find the holiday spirit. I can't exactly say why this is. Everywhere else I go in the country December is an "Oh, I guess we should hang some decorations." afterthought. New Yorkers embrace this time, and the feeling becomes contagious. It's much better (in my humble opinion) than people who want to point out that Christmas is (a) a secular Christian "Jesus thing" and (b) co-opted by the American Retail Commercialistic Conspiracy to sell goods. My response: Ba Humbug!

Last night I did what will probably be my one significant bout of drinking in celebration of my new freedom. Let's just say I'm not moving too quickly this morning. Tonight will feature a get-together of my New York Posse at Dale's apartment. It will be so nice to see these people. (I think I'll definitely keep to a minimum number of drinks, however.)

Yesterday was also a time of introspection, given the news of Saddam's capture. Like so many people in the world, I had to take some time to digest the news and ask "Now what?" What I find interesting is how little this really changes anything concrete this world. Saddam had already been neutered. The guerillas were not being organized by him. Unless Bush is able to get him to magically reveal a huge hidden stockpile of WMDs, we will just see a bit show trial, and everyone will try to use this symbolic event to rally political change for better or for worse.

In Iraq the people will be rallied to look to the future, encouraged to take a part in the foundation of their new government. This is good. Back in the USA politicians scurry to create some huge relevance, to make political platforms, take stands, argue new relevancy of new positions, pat themselves on the back, etc. This is silly.

Actually, I see more silliness in the part of the Democratic candidates (except Dean) than in the Bush administration. Let's face it: Bush led our country to pay a great price to have Saddam removed. A really huge price. Here is the payoff, so for today George W gets to have his day in the son. That doesn't change the question of whether the ends justified the means. It doesn't change the fact that we alienated most of the world nations and many people of the world look at the US in fear instead of admiration.

We will never know if the UN would have ultimately been able to bring about a positive change in Iraq on its own, albeit it a slower change. We went in alone, and we were rallied to the cause by lies about vaporous WMDs or the nonexistent "Saddam Bin Laden" connection. Our congress abjugated their authority that was written in the Constitution to prevent a President from yielding too much power. (They also abjugated their role in the 2000 Presidential Election and let the Supreme Court strong-arm the results. But who cares how the Constitution was drawn up. It's just a general guideline anyway, right?)

We will be distracted from these issues by a big showy trial, and once again the American People will be led around by the nose. May the circus begin!

Posted at 11:27 AM     Read More  

Sat - December 13, 2003

30,000 feet in the air

I'm currently somewhere over 30,000 feet in the air, due North of Cleveland and about 475 miles away from New York. They say we should be arriving at the gate in exactly an hour. The trip has been uneventful so far—Living History.

I'm still not sure how I feel about having finally vanquished that master's degree. It's been an ongoing anxiety of mine since almost the day I started it, almost eleven years ago. Back in 1992, having just graduated from Pomona College with some bitter feelings toward the world (which I may get into someday) I had started out with the ambition to be some sort of artist. At the time I thought I would be a musician. I spent an incredible summer proving myself in the corporate world as I tried to summon up enough money to pay to go to a music school.

The (flawed) logic was that in this desired departure from the math/science world that I had spent so many years preparing for, I should pick a strategically familiar medium. I'd studied piano for ten years before college, plus six years playing Trumpet in Junior High and High School, so I figured it gave me a tactical advantage. As I mentioned, I had an incredible summer in San Diego earning money for the upcoming schooling that would lead to my becoming some rock 'n roll star. Yeah right.

That endeavor had been such a failure (the school turned out to be a dumping ground for high school graduates who weren't going to college, whose parents had decided to accommodate, and who needed help learning how to read music. I had gone because I lacked the social skills and wanted to find a place that would help me hook up with people and join a band. It just wasn't a good idea and it only took a few months to realize my folly.

That left me in the dilemma of being a college graduate, supposedly self-sufficient with college loans that would need attention, and with no idea what to do with my life since the "sudden" desire to pursue the arts had already fallen into catastrophe. I fled home to Colorado, and with no better idea, I decided to pursue graduate school. My grades in college hadn't been all that good, so I took up the strategy of taking two (really hard) beginning courses ST530 and ST640 (Mathematical Statistics and Linear Models) and acing both as a testimony that I had the stuff. A bit of fast-talking and the department chair hesitantly admitted me.

In retrospect, signing up for grad school is the single greatest regret of my life. Not that the professors were nasty or anything like that. To their credit I think the Statistics Department and CSU still stands for rigor and integrity. I just didn't belong there. I tried to make the best of a bad thing, but my heart wasn't in it, and my grades reflected the fact. Coupled with a masters project that originated outside the department and had logistical and political problems, I finally fled after four years.

The five years in New York were the best of my life. I really grew and came to realize my strengths and capabilities. I left in 2002 not because I disliked New York, but I knew I had to go elsewhere to continue growing. All that time, however, my Mom continuously campaigned for me finish the degree. She had a valid point, considering that I'd already finished all the coursework, and it seemed like it would otherwise be a waste of four years. I just felt bitter because the degree was in a field I would never use, and it represented so much flailing around in my twenties while everyone else seemed to know what they were doing.

But I came to realize that I was hamstrung with this albatross still hanging on my neck. I could never truly commit to anything, especially after the move to LA, because I knew I had to finish the degree and that would take at least of month of uninterrupted time to do. I'll admit to several months of procrastination, but as anyone who's read my blog from the beginning would know, I finally went in there and finished it.

So now I finally sit thinking, unencumbered by this specter to which I had grown so accustomed, about the future. With the end of a year, the new SAG membership, the finished degree... there's potential for this to mark a new beginning—a new chapter. I just have to believe in it and light a fire under my butt.

By the way, I'm finishing this in Manhattan. I survived the trip without event. I'm sipping a Sakitini (Martini with Saki instead of Vermouth) and catching up with Bob. So I'm signing off now.

Posted at 01:55 PM     Read More  

Fri - December 12, 2003

Beware, I live!

I can't believe it. I'm really a bit numb. It's over.

It's all over.

I guess a short recap would be suitable. I got up at 5:55am, fixed my oh-so-important cup of coffee, and finished preparing about 5 more overhead transparencies. I also printed up two extra copies of the paper (one had to have 1.5 spacing--the one that will be bound) and went through the slides a few times, figuring out in my head what I would say. I ended up with about 20 slides. The rule of thumb is you should plan 1 slide per 3 minutes of presentation. Given that it looked like I would go over the 40 minute target, but I figured I could wing it.

Mom was dutifully staying out of the way (she's so cute!) and it occurred to me that she wasn't going to come unless I invited her. (She's always afraid of being in the way.) I told her that if she wanted, then by all means she could attend the defense. It was like telling a child she could go to the Wal-mart of candy stores. So we got dressed up, and about 9:20am we got in the car.

Finding the room and setting up was uneventful. I was a bit nervous, not because I was worried about giving a good presentation, but simply because this represented the end of 10 years of work and waiting, etc. I think I had 10 people attend, which was about the right size. I certainly wouldn't have wanted any more. I gave the talk, which everyone remarkably seemed to be following, and I ran a bit overtime, but there weren't many questions so we hit that one-hour target square-on.

Then everyone was excused and it was just the committee and me. I'm sure these professors believe there is a right of passage with a masters defense, and so the actual "defending" part shouldn't be too easy. Two of the committee members were also pretty tough professors (very good in what they do, but pretty damned serious and tough in their standards of rigor) who I'd actually originally hoped I might surreptitiously remove from my committee (I'm no idiot) but given all the trauma and tragedy surrounding the last month, I owe them a debt of gratitude for sticking with me.

Let's just say that I didn't lose too much blood, and all the wounds are superficial. They will heal. In the end they all shook my hand, congratulated me and that was that.

Mom took my brother (who also attended) and me out to lunch at the Moot House. Then Mom and I ran around getting photocopies of one copy of the paper (it had to be double-sided) and getting the other copy to a book-binder in Loveland, CO. I returned the copy of the paper and the receipt for the book-binding (as proof it was being done) to the secretary, and THAT was it. I was finished and there isn't (knock on wood) and single form or signature left. I'll officially graduate with the Spring 2004 class.

Then I came home, had a super deep almost-coma power nap, and then it was off to the local Dean FAC at Tres Margaritas, where I talked a few ears off about the Dean campaign.

Now it's a little past 8:30. I have to pack a bag with clothes for about 5 days, and at 5:00am (ack!) tomorrow morning I'm being picked up and shuttled to the airport to go to New York City to visit my old friends out there.

And there really isn't anything else to report! I'll have my laptop with me, so I should probably be making journal posts whenever anything interesting happens. Take care everyone!

Posted at 08:41 PM     Read More  

Thu - December 11, 2003

6... 5... 4...

It's almost midnight. I've got 14 slides printed on transparencies, and I think I'll be doing 4 more tomorrow morning. The defense is at 10am. Wish me luck!

Posted at 11:25 PM     Read More  

10... 9... 8... 7...

Tomorrow is the masters defense. If I think about it I clench up, so I'm just trying to thing about what's directly in front of me. I finished the last draft of the paper last night (ironically, I'm sure nobody will ever read it) and today is dedicated to assembling my overheads for the presentation. (And planning the presentation.) Right now my mind is blank, but I'm sure once I get rolling I'll know what to do.

Only one thing diverts my attention today. It's a local (Ft Collins) news item but boy has it got me hopping mad. Recently the school board fired our school district's superintendent Don Unger under mysterious circumstances. Don Unger was a very successful and respected administrator who's been here since I was a kid. I would go as far as to say he was rather beloved by the community and our schools are some of the strongest in the nation. Moreover, he had just months before had his contract extended another 3 years.

Suddenly the school board held a meeting behind closed doors (one member in protest didn't attend) and announced that Unger was fired. In exchange for 3 years' pay (the length of his contract) he had to agree not to disclose any information as to the reason for the termination. The only thing that was disclosed was that the reasons were not due to any scandal, inappropriate behavior, sex-abuse charge, or anything like that. The newspapers suggest the most likely reason is that he ruffled some feathers when he made a controversial budget-cutting decision to move some administrative staff into new job positions within the schools. Some of this can be better explained in this letter to the editor of the local paper. There's also an interesting article that explains how ingenious the timing of this action had been, since many of the board members were stepping down anyway. Here's one more article that gives a general perspective of what happened.

What pisses me the hell off is that publicly elected officials think they can make bold decisions, but use the legal system to create some global gag order so nobody knows their reasons. If this had to do with some sex-scandal where a victim wanted anonymity I would have understood, but it seems to me rather that a bunch of power mongers don't have the guts to let the public know the reasons for their actions because they fear retribution. I pay taxes that support this school system, and they think they get to do things behind closed doors? No way!

Just to make things more ridiculous, the secret meeting that the school board had that booted Unger had no minutes taken because the secretary who was supposed to take minutes worked under Unger and it was deemed a conflict of interest for her to attend. (Mom told me this part; I haven't found it in any articles yet.) So in recap: a secret yet official meeting of elected officials was held, and a superintendent with a spotless record was removed from his job, with no minutes being taken, gag contracts signed, and no evidence of wrongdoing? Does this smell anything BUT rotten?

There has been an outcry and a challenge to this conspiracy. Although there were no minutes, a judge has subpoenaed the notes of the school board, and he will rule today whether this action was legal or not. (This comes from Mom.) I've found an article that states the legal challenge comes from the newspaper--way to go! I would really like to attend this hearing today, and Mom's going to go check and see if and where it can be attended.

But first importance is getting ready for the masters defense tomorrow.

Posted at 09:17 AM     Read More  

Wed - December 10, 2003

Letter to the Editor

I know some of you blog readers are wondering when I'm going to go back to talking about life, computer, acting, etc. Well, when I'm a roll I've got a single track mind.

I found it interesting contrasting actual events (I watched a lot of speeches and the debate on C-SPAN yesterday.) and the way they are reported by the media. I'm embarrassed to admit I've been mostly unaware of this discrepancy. I was inspired to write a Letter to the Editor of the Coloradoan (the local Ft. Collins paper) in response to the AP article they posted about the debate. Here's the text of the letter:

I'm becoming painfully aware of how much a poorly worded story can distort the news. Too often I read "the news" and accept it as truth without consideration.

Last night I watched the Democratic debate on TV. Normally I just read recaps of these events in the newspaper, but this time I actually took the time to hear what was being said. Then I saw what showed up on the front page of the morning newspaper.

The front-page article stated that eight candidates ganged up against Dean and Gore because of the surprise endorsement. This description invokes images of Democratic candidates fighting each other, and leads the casual reader to conclude that all Democrats are savage and chaotic.

In contrast I observed Ted Koppel, co-host of the debate, asking the candidates really pointed--almost nasty--questions about when the obvious losers were going to drop out of the race. These candidates were forced to defend their own campaigns' relevance, and their responses were as tactful and diplomatic as possible. This was reported as "ganging up" on the front-runner, and it just isn't true! They even showed a remarkable level of dignity and unity when telling Koppel to stick with the important campaign issues.

I urge all news "consumers" to periodically spend time following actual events and educate themselves on the difference between truth and media interpretation.

Posted at 12:56 PM     Read More  

Tue - December 9, 2003

Democratic Debate: a Reaction

Okay, I know there's little likelihood that people are going to swarm to my site to read MY reaction to tonight's Democratic debate, but I'll write it anyway.

In all I was impressed by the Democratic Candidates. I was afraid that there would be a great amount of in-fighting and bickering, and I was glad to see that it was (mostly) not the case. I was surprised and impressed by some, disappointed and annoyed with others. The Candidates did a nice job of working together to point out when they felt Ted Koppel's questions were getting off-topic, like reactions to endorsements, polls, etc. It was hard to address 9 voices in 90 minutes and still try to get into any detail. But I think the debate served its purpose in illuminating what the candidates were like and what they were about.

Because of this last point, I would say that nobody "won or lost" the debate. Some could have done better, but all achieved their goals of getting their message across, and I think that's the most important thing.

Let me give a brief of what I thought of all the candidates:

John Edwards: Man is this guy a doofus! He has only one simple platform, and I think he stole it from Arnold Schwarzenegger: "Special Interests run this country. I'm an outsider so you can trust me. I'm the only man who will say 'no' to special interests." Dude! Do you have a position on anything or do you want me to vote for you just because you're a nice guy? And if you're a Senator, how does that make you qualify as an outsider?

Joe Lieberman: While I'm pissed off at people, let me rail against this guy. What a jerk! He is so obsessed about Howard Dean! Maybe one can excuse him due to the fact that Gore just shafted him. (Since he was Gore's running mate in the last election.) The more annoying thing is that he will say downright false things about other candidates' platforms and put words in their mouths. I've read analysts say this of him before, and I got to see it first-hand tonight. Personally I don't agree with his stance that the Iraq War is right, as is our occupation, and I think his tax cut ideas are moronic, but at least they set him apart. If you totally agree with his platform and you're not bothered with his apparent character, go ahead and vote for him.

Richard Gephardt: He will say these things that sound so good and so right, and you'll catch yourself nodding and going "hmmmm!" but afterwards you can't figure out if he said anything at all. He says broad generalizations and platitudes, but he gives no specifics. I think he's hoping that a "really nice, trustworthy, glowing demeanor" are enough to get his votes. He keeps saying "I'm the only one who can fix these problems" but never gives any details. This is the style that got George W (and Ronald) into office. The strange thing is that reading Hillary's autobiography, it sounds like he's actually pretty savvy to the workings of congress. Maybe that's what a "career politician" is.

John Kerry: Okay, time for a compliment. Kerry presented himself well, acted respectfully, didn't show neurotic tendencies, made good points and showed himself to be an all around good guy. His points were right on. I'm still a Dean supporter, but I could see myself rallying around this guy if he became the candidate.

Wesley Clark: Time for another compliment. I was seriously impressed with Clark. I believe that his insight and understanding of the Middle East dwarfs every other candidate. And as much as he is superior on foreign policy, he shows almost zilch in terms of domestic policy. A few interesting things to note: he's a Rhode's Scholar which at least places him in the "not a dumb 'good old boy'" category. He used to be a Republican until he fell at odds with his political party. I think he could capture the most Republican swing votes, but I don't think he knows how to work with congress and he doesn't have a good enough grasp on domestic issues.

Dennis Kucinich: Kucinich is articulate and doesn't say empty, vacant things. However, I consider his answers to be a bit silly and unrealistic. His only platform I came away with was "Give Iraq to the UN and pull all our troops out immediately." I'm sorry but that's just unrealistic and everybody knows that. Such a position would codify the Republican vote (and much of the Democrats) against us. He seems idealistic and unrealistic, and although I haven't read his website yet, I didn't come away with a belief that he really knows what he's talking about.

Carol Moseley Braun: I love this woman! There's no way that she's going to win, but she seems determined to make sure that her voice is heard. (And I think her voice represents some that aren't represented by the others.) I think since she doesn't have any illusions of becoming President, and that allowed her to stop worrying about making her statements into mini-commercials. She mentioned (along with Kerry) the importance of making sure the Democrats aren't divided. She sounds like a real healer. (No wonder she's an ambassador.) She was simply delightful to listen to, and I'm really happy to know she's in politics.

Al Sharpton: Now I understand what the analysts say: he's simply fun to have in a debate because he knows how to make colorful points. As much as I like his oratory skills (Reverend, go figure) and as much as--like Braun--he represents voices that deserve to be heard, I don't think he demonstrates much policy understanding, either foreign or domestic. Sorry Al!

Howard Dean: Since I'm a Dean supporter, I figured it would be fairest to put him last. I'm afraid I was a little disappointed with Dean, but only on a technical point: too often (like many others) he did not answer the questions directed at him and instead turned his time into Dean-commercials. He said some specific things about Iraq that I assume make sense (I don't know enough to evaluate his specifics.) but I'm a little worried that he's going to come across as incapable in foreign policy. This is why I think a Dean/Clark ticket would be unbeatable. Still, I'm annoyed that Dean didn't answer the questions.

Ted Koppel: Okay, he wasn't a contender, but he took part in shaping the debates. I agree with the candidates that he tried to go into "media interest" issues about campaign speculation. I salute the candidates for keeping Ted on track. Isn't it supposed to be the other way around?

C-SPAN callers after the debate: Another collection of idiots. Can anyone call in with a salient point to be made about the topic in hand? (In this case, the debate.) Sadly, hearing their thoughts stole my hope in a reasonable American Public, and I wonder if we're doomed!

Well, that's about it. I generally think Dean, Clark or Kerry could lead a decent race against George W. I think a Dean/Clark ticket (or Dean/Gore) would be optimal. Howard needs to brush up his foreign affairs debating skills and make sure he doesn't appear to dodge issues. And in general, I think we all need to pull together once this is over, put aside hard feelings and work together to win in 2004.

Posted at 07:50 PM     Read More  

Go Team Dean, Huah!

It felt so good to wake up this morning and hear that Howard Dean got the Gore endorsement. I believe that our biggest enemy is not George W (he comes in second) but apathy. People tend not to rally behind a lost cause, even when they tend to empathize with the underdog. The best thing is to show the country that there is a strong, unified front behind a single Democratic Candidate.

I'm also annoyed that every other candidate seems preoccupied with "Dean Bashing" rather than focusing on their own agendas. I really haven't heard any other candidates' platforms--just their whining about Dean, and their attempt to pick up support in specific demographics. There are two things I really like about the Dean Campaign:

1. Although there's the constant appeal for financial donations, the Dean campaign doesn't give me impression they only want my money. They let me know what I can do for the campaign (other than opening my checkbook). In the letters I'm writing to Iowa democrats where I ask for their support and involvement in the upcoming Jan 19 Iowa caucus, there's not a single point in which I ask for their money. I'm willing to bet some of them are reading my letters today, puzzled because I'm not telling them where to mail their checks.

2. Dean talks about the issues and his goals. Yes he does criticize George W's actions quite a bit, but he doesn't bicker like the other Democratic Candidates.

The more I read Hillary's autobiography (and I'm trying to read it with a critical eye so I can judge what is factual and what is a biased spin on events) the more I realize Dean is going to have a damned hard time once he gets elected President. I really think this country is in the midst of a Civil Cold War where a Republican congress with sabotage decent legislation, not because they disagree with the legislation, but because they can't allow a Democrat to look good. I really think there's a war going on, and it's going to be a long and bloody one on our own soil.

May we live in interesting times.

I'll end with something cute I just found. Someone made a bunch of little commercials that are blatant knockoffs of the "Apple Switch" campaign. I think they would be great commercials to actually air, but I suspect Apple wouldn't let them get away with it.

Posted at 10:27 AM     Read More  

Mon - December 8, 2003


I've got an idea, and it may not work, but there's the most remote possibility that it might actually be a really great idea that could make a significant political impact. I'm writing it here really as a way to get it out of my head so I can examine it further. First, some background.

I. I've been reading Hillary Rodham Clinton's autobiography Living History. I'm struck by the parallels between 1992 and today, especially with the economy and with Health Care. My conclusion so far is this: no matter how well-meaning a President is, congress has the power to neuter him. Thus, although Howard Dean has done wonderful things in Vermont, the simple fact is that state legislatures are not nearly as polarized as the federal government. Conclusion: It's not enough to change the Presidency, we (meaning Democrats) must retake Congress.

II. The Republican Party has one thing going for them: they are organized. The article I mentioned a few days ago on the redistricting shows that they have the meticulous organizational power to obtain a stranglehold on Congress. They work as an entire unified body while Democrats seem to have a much harder job organizing. Conclusion: The Democratic Party must find a way to organize and achieve the larger goal of systematically winning local congressional races.

III. The paradigm-breaking phenomenon that typifies the Dean Campaign is the use of the Internet as a tool to bring together and organize vast numbers of smaller organizations. Our successes suggest this is a valid model, and I suspect that we are about to demonstrate even bigger successes once the primaries start happening. Conclusion: This technology paradigm might be what we need to achieve the takeover of Congress.

IV. The "Dean Phenomenon" (in this I mean the people) have already shown the ability to rally behind a smaller campaign. In the last meetup I attended there was mention of a "really cool guy" named Mike Miles who was considering (or maybe he already declared) running for an opening senatorial seat here in Colorado. There were many people (myself included) who showed instant interest in seeing what could be done to help his campaign as well. There was also an article I read today about how the Dean campaign put up a link to support some other congressional candidate and the Dean supporters wired up $50,000 over the weekend toward his campaign. Conclusion 1: If we can avoid (historical) infighting between factions of the Democratic Party once Dean is declared the front-runner and the Dean Team folds in with the rest of the Democrats, maybe we can use Dean Team Style Approaches to run and win a lot of congressional battles. Conclusion 2: We need a global Internet tool that can help us organize.

Why do we need such a tool? I'm glad you asked!

My biggest managerial success was against a project so huge and with so many targets and interdependencies that it just seemed too daunting. We had a very small team, and we had to do the impossible. I got to work every day before 6am and focused my first two hours to refreshing our "Project at a Glance". I used a combination of a hand-built groupware (Exchange) application for my remote teams and an enormous wall-sized white board to show a color-coded view of what we had accomplished and what we had yet to do. Every day I refilled the wall with a perspective of our target, and I swear we pulled off the impossible over the span of a year.

This tool served two purposes. First, it allowed us to always keep our eye on the goal so there was never a moment where we didn't know what needed to be done next. Second, it allowed us to keep our focus over an extended period of time. (Third, I didn't have to micro-manage. It was pretty obvious what each person needed to do next.)

So what groupware tool would help achieve this goal? What information do we have to see?

At a glance, we would need:
1a. The ability to keep a running tally of The Big Picture. How many contested seats are available? How do we stand (in the polls) on each seat?
1b. The ability to see this over the next 2, 4, 6... years. We must get as many victories in November 2004 as we can, but then we must somehow preserve our intention and energy to refocus on 2006 and 20008. We need to see seats that will become available (or vulnerable) throughout the next several years.
2. To track all the potential candidates out there that we might be able to support.
3a. A database of both our people (Democrats) and their people (Republicans), both incumbents and new challengers. For each person we should have easy access to...
3b. their political platform, with cross-referenced information on
3c. their voting record or past accomplishments, and finally
3d. Links to every article written about them.

That tool would allow every local Democratic group to organize and, when necessary, pull resources from the larger body to win local elections.

What's in the way? Well, such a database would have to be HUGE and the human resources necessary would require an army of dedicated to complete. But guess what? We (Dean people, Internet people, Open Source people) are legendary for our ability to mobilize unfathomably large armies of people.

What's the tool? Wiki.

For those of you who are not in the know, wiki is part technological marvel and part social phenomenon. It is this giant hyperlinked document system that has decentralized means for armies of people to contribute, edit, correct and refine a large document. The best example (in my mind) is the Wikipedia which is one large multi-language encyclopedia that has been fashioned entirely from decentralized volunteer efforts. The thing is amazing. Just go take a look at it and look up any topic. This is no screwy little kid's game. This is professional quality encyclopedia with over 180,000 different topics.

With a nominal amount of time, effort and equipment, we could create a wiki-research tool that would give a strategic assault, complete with research materials to the grassroots level, and with it we could level the political playing field.

Okay, I sound like a silly dreamer. But you can't deny that both the wikipedia and the Dean campaign are spectacular social phenomena that you wouldn't believe it if you didn't see it.

So that's my idea. I wonder if it's worth pursuing.

Posted at 04:23 PM     Read More  
Hypothetical Phone Call
Weekend in the Mountains
More Political Rants
Comparing Liberal and Conservative States
Itching to Write Again
Attending a Howard Dean Meetup
Getting Closer to Locking in the Date
Truth is Stranger than Fiction
Safe Arrival
I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane...
Happy Thanksgiving Everybody!
The Hell of Academia
Rebuilding the new server
Major Mile Marker in Master's Paper
Interview with a Corpse